Given the deserved critical acclaim of The Muppets preceding endeavour, it was something of a concern to see lead star and co-writer Jason Segel opt out of the opportunity to get involved in their latest project Muppets Most Wanted. However who better to pass on screenwriting duties to, than the director himself James Bobin – as the man who co-wrote the likes of Flight of the Conchords and Da Ali G Show teams up with the returning Nicholas Stoller, to make a triumphant return into the eccentric, surreal world of Jim Henson’s most renowned creation.
Picking up moments where the last feature left off, Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) is approached by a seemingly shrewd businessman named Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais), who hopes to tempt The Muppets into a world tour. However it soon transpires that he is in fact the sidekick to notorious villain – and Kermit doppelgänger – Constantine (Matt Vogel), who has recently escaped from a high security Russian Gulag. Their cunning plan is for Constantine to replace and imitate Kermit, and use the tour as an excuse to wind up in London, and steal the Crown Jewels. With Kermit locked away under the watchful eye of prison guard Nadya (Tina Fey), The Muppets have lost their ringleader, and the likes of Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear (both Eric Jacobson) are left to fend for themselves.
Ever since The Muppet Show first aired in 1976, they have remained constantly entertaining and accessible to both adults and children alike, and this film remains faithful to that tone. With that territory naturally comes adult orientated jokes that may go over the heads of many members of the audience, playing on the notion of nostalgia effectively. However while the youngsters may not get the jokes, the narrative is simplistic, linear and engaging, and while this may be completely unique as a Muppets movie, the filmmakers lovingly abide by convention in regards to the structure. It’s hilariously meta too, as The Muppets are all aware they’re making a movie, and this self-referential element is where much of the humour derives from, as the previous feature film is alluded to on occasion.
Meanwhile, the music is just brilliant, as the songs are truly memorable and catchy. When they want to be sincere and melodic, they succeed, and when they try to be funny and whimsical, they succeed at that too – in many regards achieving exactly what their composer Bret McKenzie manages in Fight of the Conchords, which is a really challenging task for any songwriter. His regular collaborator Jemaine Clement heads a host of brilliant cameo performances, with the likes of Ray Liotta, Lady Gaga and Danny Trejo (hilariously playing himself) all on board, as we embark on an immensely entertaining (and in this case somewhat tiring) game of spot the celebrity guest.
The depiction of European cities – ranging from Berlin to Madrid – are well judged, picking up on the stereotypical sensibilities, and giving you a flavour and sense for the spirit of the nation being depicted. On a more negative note, the supporting cast feel somewhat underused, and with so much focus on Kermit and his battle with Constantine, the likes of Miss Piggy and Gonzo, for example, are under-utilised, and their comic potential wasted. Conversely, Gervais doesn’t rely on his typical, David Brent-esque caricature as a source of comedy, though yes, he does the dance.
Similar to the recent picture both in tone and spirit, this almost feels like one half of two movies. So, if you’re a fan of the first, which, let’s face it, you most definitely are, then this will be everything you had hoped for and more. It’s just a brilliant comedy caper, and thankfully loses some of the sentimentality that came with the first film, which had mawkish tendencies. This is a somewhat darker offering and one that focuses more predominantly on the story, and the film benefits as a result.